We’re back to the Highland and more specifically back to Balblair. This time, it’s another proof of how friends can influence your spendings, especially when you’re weak regarding a specific distillery. You just need to tell some of my friends “new Ben Nevis something” and bam!, they throw money at their computer (not like they’re wrong when it’s for a Ben Nevis). Me… it works with a few distilleries in the same way, including Balblair… So we’ll review today a Balblair 2006 single cask bottled for La Maison Du Whisky, highly recommended by a friend who even offered to buy it back, should I dislike it. That’s how in love with that bottle he is. And we’ll review at the same time another single cask, a Balblair 2008 hand filled at the distillery in 2019.
Balblair 2008 Handfill Single Cask #717 Review
When I went to Scotland for the first time in 2019, Balblair was the first distillery I visited with the friends who came with me for the Spirit of Speyside. We toured this beautiful distillery, tasted the new 12, 15 and 18 years old range (the 25-year-old was not yet available unfortunately), and I had the chance to get the last bottle hand filled from the cask available in the visitor centre, an ex-bourbon cask #717 filled in 2018, and that I finished emptying on the 29th of April 2019 if my memory serves me well. Then, I might have drunk the very last few drops straight from the pump connected to the cask, one good mouthful ! I paid the equivalent of €110 at the time (about £95).
Neat: Intense, the high ABV is immediately noticeable. Lots of fruits, apricot, mango, pineapple, ripe bananas, then orange peels and soft spices.
With water, the intensity due to the ABV tones down, and reveals sesame oil, prune, Bounty chocolate bar and cinnamon.
Neat: Thick, warm and viscous mouthfeel, thick liquid caramel, milk truffle chocolate, a bit of ginger, and hints of vanilla, apricot and orange.
After reduction, barley sugar, coconut shavings, a bit of honey and in the back, pineapple and the faintest note of eucalyptus.
Adding more water, it gets surprisingly drying on the gums, unlocking tannins from the wood, as well as spicier on the tip of the tongue. The vanilla moves to custard cream.
Long finish. Caramel for the longest time, truffle chocolate again and spices.
This ex-bourbon single cask is surprisingly intense on the nose and thick on the palate, and not as clear as the ‘old’ but same age official bottlings with a vintage, like my dear 2005 bottled in 2016. The level on my bottle hasn’t dropped much in three years and that’s both a shame and a relief at the same time. A shame because it’s delicious, intense, and leaves lots of room for playing with water. And a relief, because that means I have still a lot of this Balblair, and thank the whisky gods for that. Adding to that the experience of filling the bottle and then, since it was the last one from the cask, drinking the last drops straight from the casks make for an unforgettable experience that shouldn’t have an impact on the rating, so… okay, it won’t. For me only, it’s two points higher because of these memories. For other people, it will be…
Balblair 2006 Single Cask #77 for LMDW Review
This Balblair has been distilled in 2006 and matured for about fourteen years in first-fill sherry butt #77. It was selected by La Maison Du Whisky, and bottled in 2020. 573 bottles were released at the cask strength of 56.3% ABV, without chill filtration nor colouring. I was going to rant about the price, as I paid €185 for a bottle, but if I am honest with myself, I might have spent the same kind of money on a twice younger Irish single-pot-still recently, so… I’ll keep the rant in for once. Anyway. Not many French off-licences have this bottle still in stock, but Cave Conseil Le Gus’t and Diogène Atmosphère have some for an even steeper price, about €220. It’s unfortunately not available outside France. Quick remark by the way, I was happily surprised to see they used the old bottle shape and box for this single cask, and not the current ones. That doesn’t change the taste, but I definitely prefer the old bottles shape, and the two-door box with its magnets to ease the closure.
Neat: huge rancio immediately, the nose is intense but in a different less alcoholic way than the 2008 from above. Noble woods, wood and shoe polishes, old leather. Then herbal notes, moving to mushrooms and wet saltpetre on cobblestone walls in the basement. Dried figs, light liquorice notes. Floral ones as well, lavender, cornflower. Quite vinous as well.
With water: a box of cigars, even the whole humidor, wet tobacco leaves, and hints of rubber inflatable balloons, the one the kids love to play with (and explode when they don’t pay attention).
Neat: herbal arrival, it makes me think of a 1960s Glendronach 12 I had in December, really old style. The mouthfeel is creamy, thinner than the 2008 reviewed above but thick nonetheless. Dark fruits, figs, dates, and now on the second sip some dryness appears on the top gum. Nutty notes, and hints of rhubarb, redcurrant and quince.
After reduction: oooh it gets sweeter as well as slightly drier. More red fruits, blood orange juice, cigar, a little incense, and caraway (love that, I buy sometimes some gouda cheese with caraway seeds, it’s so good.)
Looooong. Slightly dry, vinous, as well as breakfast cocoa powder, dried figs and gunpowder.
At first, to be honest, I was disappointed with this whisky, I found it too herbal for my taste. The friend who recommended that bottle to me offered again to buy it, but I declined, wanting to give it more time over… time. With a bit of air in the bottle, more encounters with it, more time in the glass… and more thinking, I began to understand this whisky. In the end it’s strangely for me like an old recent one. Or a recent old one? I said in my notes, it makes me think of a 1960s Glendronach 12, so let’s say this Balblair feels like a recent old ‘young-ish’ one. Seems clear, right? Anyway, what I mean is that now I’m happy to have bought this bottle, because each time I pour myself a dram and take time with it, I discover new things, I learn more about it, and each time I love it more than the previous one. I’m sure there’s a limit to that reasoning, or else in 10 drams down the road I would rate it 105 over 100. But for now, I think this will be a justified…